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Product quality of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)

CFLs with similar colour light to traditional incandescent light bulbs

CFLs cover a range of desired colours including a close approximate of the 'warm' light of most incandescent bulbs, around 2700 degrees Kelvin.

The Kelvin temperature of a light bulb refers to the colour of the light it emits. It is a comparison to natural outdoor light. For example, sunlight at noon on a clear day is about 6000 degrees Kelvin.

CFLs are available in five main colours:

  • warm white (similar to the light from incandescent light bulbs) – about 2700 to 3000 degrees Kelvin
  • white – about 3500 degrees Kelvin
  • cold white – about 4000 degrees Kelvin
  • neutral white – about 5000 degrees Kelvin
  • daylight – about 6000 degrees Kelvin.

How light output is measured

Traditional incandescent light bulbs were commonly selected by the wattage (W) shown on the packaging of the product. An example of this is the purchase of a traditional 60W incandescent bulb, suitable for use in bedrooms and or other small living spaces. The wattage of a lighting product refers to the measure of energy input, or energy required for the light to come on – this however, is not a true measure of light. The more accurate measure of light is lumens (lm). Lumens is a measure of light output, the actual intensity of the light that is produced.

When selecting a lighting product for your home or office, look for the amount of lumens the bulb produces. This will assist you in buying the light output that best suits the space. See the globe conversion table to assist you in your selection of a more energy efficient lighting alternative that best suits your lighting requirements.

Turn the light off—or leave it on?

There is a common misconception that more energy is used to switch a fluorescent light on and off than to leave it on when you leave a room. In fact it is more energy efficient to switch compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) off to save energy and conserve the life of the lamp if you briefly leave a room - rather than leaving the lights on.

There is an 'inrush' current when fluorescent lights are turned on that is higher than the current drawn during normal operation. This additional current is only drawn for a fraction of a second—so it is always more energy efficient to turn the light off when not needed.

Frequent switching on and off may shorten the life of most CFLs. However, as an addition to the incandescent phase-out initiative the Australian Government has introduced minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) for CFLs that includes a basic standard for switching. This standard requires over 3000 switching cycles per 6000 hours of lamp life.

For some special applications where frequent switching is critical, there are 'cold cathode' CFLs that feature lifetimes of 15,000 hours with 500,000 switching cycles. This technology is more expensive and mostly intended for commercial use.

CFLs and interference with electronic devices

CFLs can interfere with other electronic devices, but it's rare. CFLs like all other electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields and emit light in the infrared range, which can occasionally affect other electronic devices.

If this occurs it can be fixed by moving the device away from the bulb or putting something between the device and the bulb, such as a lampshade.

CFLs end of life

Knowing when CFLs should be replaced

Unlike traditional incandescent light bulbs, CFLs tend not to stop working completely, but the light output reduces over time.

When the light output fades the lamp should be replaced.

CFLs that discolour, emit smoke or smell

CFLs like other electronic appliances may fail in a number of different ways at the end of their life. In a very small number of cases, for example, the electronic components in the base of the CFL may fail and release smoke, or discolour or deform the plastic casing of the CFL.

While disturbing, these events are not a safety hazard. The plastic casing is required to be designed to contain the failed components and has special inhibitors to prevent a risk of fire.

All CFLs imported into Australia are required to meet Australian Standards that specify safety parameters including the way in which the CFLs may fail when they reach the end of their life.

Further information